"The Little Jewish Lady" (Cont'd for 5th and LAST time)
Death. Death. Death. Death. Hot damn, bring on DEATH. I'm not afraid to die, are you?
In a way, I love viewing things from back over the dead bodies that line the road of my past, and I'm not really punning when I say "road of my past" since a lot of my favorite people have died on the long highway. Death. Death. All along all roads are signs of death. Road kill. Car wrecks. Roadside bombs. Death. Death. Death. Death in schools. Death in a Christian church. Death both coming from without and within; the Death coming from within the church, too. BANG. Death in a Christian church with a security guard who had a weapon and who opened fired on the Death that had entered the church from the outside to kill or be killed, which is what it is, military reasoning--and our country is full of military reasoning now--we obey--we are lemmings--and DEATH loves us lemmings. But then DEATH loves nonconformists, too. Death solves so many problems. Death makes heroes of macabre nutjobs. Death makes gods out of peasants. Death makes fools out of intellectuals.
And two days ago DEATH took one of my heroes since I was 8 years old, Oscar Peterson, the greatest-ever jazz pianist--greatest-ever pianist in my case, jazz, blues, rag, classical, swing, stride, jump, boogie, slow drag, and Death took a big deadly bite out of Oscar's kidneys. Death comes in kidney failure. Death rings once--and if you answer you die and if you don't answer you still die. Death. Death. Death.
And I grew up a little tyke attending death services often, especially in the springs and summers when the WWII soldiers who'd DIED on the battlefields would come home in body bags with US flags draped around them--the US flag being a DEATH flag, flying in spite of WAR; flying in spite of BOMBS bursting on air. Even our flag stands for KILL or BE KILLED. For so proudly it waves. And I remember as a kid the little US flags they put on the veterans's graves, little weatherproofed US flags that fluttered like red-white-and-blue butterflies over their graves--stationary butterflies fluttering as a symbol of DEATH. The soldiers on whose graves these little flags fluttered were DEAD. They were killed in war.
Out at my parents's grave on a cold fall morning, looking down at their graves, which are marked with their names and ages--nothing about who they were when they were alive--nope, once you're dead you're dead, buried, and sometimes totally forgotten, whether you died a war hero or a couple on vacation who just happened to get in the way of an 18-wheeler asphalt hauler doing 80 miles a fucking hour down a big fine wide Texas highway--and splat, one minute you're alive, laughing, dancing, jigging, hoping on the morrow, and then you look up while alive and the next SPLAT second you are flying 30 feet in the air to come down SPLAT on that highway, DEAD, to SPLAT down, explode, your clothes evaporating leaving you NAKED in DEATH, totally exposed in DEATH. The NAKED and the DEAD. And soldiers are buried with flags covering their coffins. Each DEAD soldier is worth $10,000. Hot damn! We're rich--all five of our sons were killed in IRAQ! And DEATH is a billion-dollar industry in this country. And things that cause death are also billion-dollar industries. DEATH is stronger than LIFE.
And one day at this pharma advertising agency in which I worked and in which I recommended to hire and then lived side-by-side with for almost two years, this Little Jewish Lady, and that one day, then she was no more. She was gone. Her office was empty--for a while--until they hired another editor and put him in her office.
And she called me one day and said she wanted me to meet her at Muldoon's and I did. I saw her first at a corner headed toward Muldoon's but she was having trouble getting up on a curb--her arthritis had her in several binds and it was very painful for her to walk. I ran dangerously across busy wild 42nd Street to lift her up on the curb; nobody was offering her any aid. At Muldoon's she told me of her plans. She was leaving her husband and her sons and moving to Florida. She'd bought a car, she said, with the cashing out of some of her stocks and bonds her grandmother had left her, and she was moving to just outside Fort Lauderdale and when she got a phone down there she'd send me her phone number, blah, blah, blah, and who knew, perhaps I could find it in my travelin' nature to fly down to Florida and trip the light fantastic with her some weekend.
"You know, Mr. Wolf, I owe you a lot." "No you don't." "Yes, I do. I don't know what I'd'a done without your help, advice, I mean, Mr. Wolf, you saved my ass here over and over; you tolerated my little Jewish lady attitude and my whacked out friends and my husband--it's like you're a member of my family." Argggggg! I choked back my disgust.
She didn't look all that healthy during that lunch, that last lunch as a matter of fact, though she was happy and had had a lot of stress lifted from her but she was still ravaged by arthritis, to the point she was getting some kind of shots at $1,000 bucks a pop to try and contain it. The agency's superdrug, the arthritis drug, did nothing for her arthritis. Only ibuprofen helped her but even it became helpless against her vicious arthritis most of the time. And, yes, she was still smoking; still had her little cigarette purse and lighter, though by now she wasn't allowed to smoke in Muldoon's, so she tripped out into the December cold a couple of times to light one up--"You wanna go out with me?" "No, I'll stay here and drink beer."
Her skin was more pallid than ever. It was powdery; white powdery; like the dead-skin signaling the approach of Mr. Death, and she still stunk of death, too; you know that sick odor some old people develop when they're almost slipping into the grave?
"This is the best move I ever made. I can't wait to get to Florida and leave my woes behind. And I owe it all to you, Wolfie, so here, I want you to have this to remember me by." She handed me a heavy silver chain bracelet, heavy silver, yes, and nice, too, and she knew as part wolf and part man I worshipped silver--the silver moon! Native Americans call silver the "tears of the moon" and damn I love the tears of the moon. "Geez, LJL, you didn't have to do this," I said as I attached the bracelet around my wrist. "Oh but I did have to do this. I'll never forget you and I don't want you to forget me either."
I'm still wearing this silver bracelet as I type this. L Hat used to say to me, "I never knew you to wear jewelry, now you're decked out in jewelry like a bling freak." (OK, L Hat doesn't talk that way--yes, I'm putting my words into his lingo-packed mouth.) And he was right, I had never in my life worn much jewelry--watches, I always had a nice watch, but not rings or earrings or belly rings or bracelets--you know.
So the Little Jewish Lady moved to Florida. She moved to Florida around X-mas time of 2003 and in February of 2004, I called her on the phone number she'd had the Puerto Rican lady send me via email. Things weren't going so well, she said after I called her. She'd totalled her new car driving on US Highway 1; she hadn't driven in so long, she panicked when a car cut in front of her and she jerked her wheel too hard to the right to avoid hitting the fool and as a result her car spun out, flipped, and became an encompassing ball of twisted tin. They had to cut the Little Jewish Lady out of her car with the jaws of life--and she came out of the wreck whole, unharmed, except, my God, she said, I had to smoke three cartons of cigs down fast to get over the anxiety and trauma of the wreck. Also, her landlord was telling her he was going to have to raise her rent. "Social Security isn't covering my expenses. I'm looking for work. Proofreading, anything, but so far there's nothing." Her Florida adventure was turning into Holy Hell and not DisneyWorld, and, too, Little Rocky and Stupid Sidney had found their ways down there and were fucking up royally wherever they tried to establish themselves down there and LJL was ending up having to shell out thousands of bucks to get them back to New York and out of her hair.
And then, I lost track of her.
I kept her number by my phone. I started to call her any number of times but I didn't; I just didn't. I was lazy. I saw the number all the time but I just never called her.
It was a couple of years later, 2006, when I heard the big, tall redhead was in the hospital, in bad shape, with Irritable Bowel Syndrome--she got worse; they changed their diagnosis; the big, tall redhead was fucked; she had terminal stomach cancer. Soon the big, tall redhead, once the cat's meow of medical editing, was hospitalized with cancer; soon she was undergoing chemo--then radiation--but her cancer had already rock 'n rolled big time through her big, tall body; it had already infested her big, tall body, and was headed for her brain and its final feed. And late one afternoon in the summer of 2006 I got an email from a friend at the agency saying the big, tall redhead was DEAD. GONE. Who the hell would have guessed such a thing just a few years before? I was fired in 2004 from the agency; "fired"--well, they called it "outplacing"; and when I left the agency the big, tall redhead was flaring red and vicious, having turned paranoidally fooltish against me--the bitch, and it was her big, tall paranoia freaking out that helped get me fired. Yeah, sure; I was fired. The Little Jewish Lady had quit by X-mas 2003 and in 2004 I was fired and then 2005 went by fast and furiously. I had the Madwoman of Chaillot living with me for most of 2005, and all that while I thought LJL was in Florida living as well as she could and that she was in Florida when she heard the big, tall redhead was dead. That's what I thought.
It was X-mas 2006 when I got an email from my friend still at the old agency. The Little Jewish Lady, he wrote, is back in New York City, back with her husband in their old apartment in the Bronx. Why was she back with her husband? She'd been diagnosed with lung cancer and though doing fairy well she was going to start chemo soon and doctors were giving her high hopes of recovery. Cold bastard that I can be sometimes, I wasn't surprised to hear she had finally developed the cancer that had surely been eating away at her even while I was trying to get her to stop smoking cigs and go on a diet and lose all that baby fat she still carried around and then maybe her arthritis would be pushed back into a controllable state and then she'd go on living happily ever after. I ignored the fact that my old "friend" the Little Jewish Lady was right here in New York City, at her old apartment, and I had the phone number to that apartment but I never called it. Cold hearted; I was in one of my "I told you so" attitudes about LJL. "Served her right." I was pissed at her really. How stupid she'd been all along...but then I down deep was feeling great feelings for her, this silver bracelet keeping me reminded of her all the time I wore it and I'd been wearing it steadily since she'd given it to me that day in Muldoon's back near X-mas in 2003.
One day I got another email. The Little Jewish Lady was starting chemo and was home and was sort of doing OK. Then in 2006 when the big, tall redhead died, I started to go to that one's funeral but I didn't; did the Little Jewish Lady go to the funeral? NO, they said, she was too sick. X-mas 2006 came and went and then in the summer of 2007 another email came from my pal at the agency, the Little Jewish Lady had taken a turn for the worst and was starting her cobalt treatments, her radiation treatments that week; I assumed her Ronald-Reagan hair was burnt off her head leaving her fat, round, and bald after that. Damn, it was mean of me to think of her that way. How piously above-it-all I was; yet, this silver bracelet I'm still wearing was yelling at me; the least you could do is find out what hospital she's in and call her or, hey, sombitch, how about going to see this woman who idolized you, who said she loved you over and over, and who you did your best to help with advice and encouragement--BUT, I ignored her. I mean, come on, in the span of 4 years, my best friend ever from my youth on (the college professor) died of cancer in January 2002. Later that spring, my brother died of cancer. Later that fall, my ex-wife died of lung cancer in Santa Fe, New Mexico (she'd been a stone Salem smoker since she was a teenager--dead at 59). Then the next year around X-mas, my retarded nephew died while undergoing a throat operation in a Los Angeles hospital--he died in November, just before X-mas of 2003. That was the time the Little Jewish Lady retired and moved to Florida. The next year, 2004, in the fall, I was fired from my agency job. 2005 was my Madwoman of Chaillot year. Ugh! And in 2005, also, I found out the big, tall redhead had cancer and then in 2006 she died of cancer. And then in November of 2006, another nephew of mine, my brother's second-born son, went into a California state park out in the Mojave Desert, took single-barrel shotgun, cocked it, put it between his legs to steady it, put the barrel up against the roof of his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He was found headless and very much dead by the California Highway Patrol. And in that same year, a little after my nephew blew his brains out, 2006, I found out the Little Jewish Lady had cancer.
Just a few weeks ago (December 17), it's 2007 now, I got an email from the Puerto Rican woman who was still at the agency--really the only one left there from those old golden days in that office--and she was telling a bunch of us that the Little Jewish Lady had been moved to a hospice and was recovering better than expected. I knew better. I knew when the HMOs moved you into a hospice, you were stamped "NO HOPE" and left to die in the arms of the little nuns of sorrow at a hospital in the Bronx called Calvary--the very same hospice in which my best friend-ever in NYC (the photographer) had died from esophagus cancer in 1991 at 43. "We ask for your prayers so that our dear friend will recover fully," the very Catholic Puerto Rican lady said in her email. I knew better. Being sent to a hospice meant several things--sometimes it meant your insurance had run dry and you were being evicted from the hospital and sent to the hospice as an indigent--or even if you still had some piddling bucks left in your HMO cancer account, the insurance gang knew you were a goner and really didn't have enough money for one more major operation or more radiation--no, hell, no, that's it, case closed, ship her off to the hospice to DIE. And that's exactly what happened.
One whole afternoon later after I received the email from the Puerto Rican lady about LJL being in a hospice and doing nicely, I got a very short email from my old friend in the agency. All it said was, "LJL passed away early this morning." And I immediately started to trying to write this tribute--it's taken me this long to write about it. She's gone. She's silenced. Her troubles are over. Her arthritis no longer makes her body so wracked with pain she couldn't even stand having to turn and twist in bed so she slept in an old easy chair. And finally, she can now smoke celestial cigarettes--except, I know the Little Jewish Lady had no religion at all; one thing she and I really had in common, we despised religious types of any brand. Plus being Jewish and naturally born wise she was in my political boat, too; a ribald progressive Jewish liberal who called our phony president G.W. Bush "a Nazi-sympathizin' menace"--yes, LJL saw the world pretty much like it was--except, she truly believed she really didn't smoke that many cigarettes and she truly believed she didn't smoke enough to worry about cancer--why, she worried most about her arthritis as she lit up another Marlboro Light (they killed the Marlboro man, remember?).
So the Little Jewish Lady is no more. I hear a sudden silence all around me when I remember her now. I don't see her as I've depicted her in these 5 editions--nope, I'm over my abuse of her. I can now render her a Jewish saint; yep, that's what she really was, a little imp of a Jewish saint--crass, vulgar, rude, sloppily dressed, sloppily built, a waddling little Jewish duck of a woman who could spot a quack from a mile away; NOW a saint.
The silver bracelet on my arm just pinched my wrist. "There she is now," I thought. "She gave me this damn silver bracelet so her spirit would have a place to reside--and, hey, there she goes again, tweaking my wrist as a reminder of who she was and who she'll always be as long as I keep wearing this bracelet. And when I die, I assume they'll bury me with this bracelet still on my arm. It's kind'a ironic to think the Little Jewish Lady's saintly spirit will be buried with me when I eventually DIE.
Death. Death. Death. Always death. Even being born is entering the highway that leads to the DEAD END, the cul-de-sac we all must face. "NO MORE ROAD! DEAD END!" DEAD. DEAD. and Finally DEAD.
"alas, poor Little Jewish Lady, I knew her well"
for The Daily Growler